French School Students Protest Housing Eviction Dispute

Chanting “$4,000, that’s it?” students at the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district beat drums and danc­ed at a rally Thursday morning in a show of solidarity with residents being forced from their homes for a school expansion.

Around 30 of the affected residents showed up as well.

“This needs to be done with dignity. The government isn’t being clear about their plan and they are spreading rumors to divide the residents,” Raimondo Pictet, a 12th-grad­er at Lycee Rene Descartes said at the rally Thursday held in front of his school.

The $4,000 figure students were chanting refers to the compensation being offered to some residents of an adjacent five-story building where many have lived since 1979. Depending on how long a res­ident has occupied the building, the government has offered $4,000, $7,000 or $10,000 in compensation and a plot of land in Meanchey district’s Boeng Tompun commune, Brian Rohan, an American land dispute lawyer with children studying at the school, said Thursday while dropping off his kids.

“This is a typical Cambodian style eviction where they pay low com­pensation and move the people far away,” he said.

As the rally tailed off, the students went to speak with French Embassy officials and Deputy Dis­trict Governor Sok Penhvuth about en­suring that residents’ rights are pro­tected. Those meetings resulted in conflicting reports about the evictions set to take place while the school goes on a two-week Khmer New Year’s break.

“The vice district mayor told us the French Embassy asked the gov­ernment to do the eviction during the two-week break so the students would not be terrified,” Mr Pictet, the 12th grader, said by phone later in the day.

French Embassy officials told the students the government is carrying out the eviction and will de­cide when to do it, he added.

The French Embassy declined to com­ment Thursday.

Some 37 families are being forc­ed from their homes in the building in a land transfer agreement be­tween the governments of Cam­bod­ia and France. Some 19 families of the 37 have accepted the com­pen­sation already, but the remainder say the compensation is not adequate.

“They want to pay us $10,000 and give us a 4-meter by 8-meter plot of land outside of Phnom Penh,” Khun Nala, a grocery vendor, said during an interview Tues­day, adding that there is no water, el­ec­tricity or customers for her at the relocation site.

Many of the residents are former gov­­ernment employees and staff of a university that occupied the grounds of the French school be­fore 2001 and were allowed by au­th­orities in 1979 to occupy the build­ing.

“Not only citizens have to move, but some Daun Penh district officers living there have to go as well,” Pich Socheata, Deputy Daun Penh district governor, said Tuesday.

Several of the residents interview­ed Tuesday and Thursday say they do not have other homes and that they will not be able to build a home with the compensation offered.

The principal of Lycee Rene Des­cartes, who declined to give her name, said at the school Thursday that residents have known they would have to move for many years and that the government was mere­­ly giving control of the land back to the French government, which had occupied it since 1951, ex­­cept for during the Khmer Rouge years.

“This doesn’t depend on the people of the school; this is an agreement negotiated by diplomats,” the principal said. “This is a waste of the students’ time, and it is not their business,” she added.




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